Hodder & Stoughton | 2021 (18 February) | 325p | Review copy and Bought copy | Buy the book
The planet Gora is unremarkable in every way and, with no air, no water and no indigenous life, it would seem a strange place to settle. But its proximity to a number of popular planets makes Gora the perfect rest stop on long haul journeys across the Galaxy, especially when the place to stop is as welcoming as the Five-Hop One-Stop. Oulo, with her teenager Tupo, welcome three visitors to their Five-Hop One-Stop. Each intend to stay no longer than a few hours and all have important appointments to keep on other, far more interesting worlds, but they cannot fail to be charmed by their friendly hosts who provide as much cake as they can eat as well as wonderful baths. But the visitors are marooned by a fluke technological disaster, which halts all traffic on or off the planet for what might be days. The visitors and their hosts are thrown together and there is nothing to do but wait and rely on each other to help pass the time. And each of these visitors couldn’t be more different from each other and their hosts.
The premise of The Galaxy, and the Ground Within sounds simple, albeit enticing, and it hides the true nature of this absolutely gorgeous, enchanting novel, which presents us with four alien species all trying to get along on a world that isn’t so much hostile, although it is deadly, as entirely uncaring for life. This story is all about these five characters and anyone who has read any of the other books in Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers series will know just how intoxicating this tale will be, how much we will fall in love with its people. This is so sadly the last of the four novels. Each stands alone, although there are references to characters from other books as there are here, but as a group of novels they are perfect in their creation and depiction of this universe called the Galactic Commons. You can definitely read this without having read the others first but you’ll certainly want to read them afterwards.
The four species represented here are so different from each other, in appearance, in nature, in their methods of communication and perception, in their relationships and in their desires. I don’t want to say much at all about these characters because it is such a joy learning about them but I must say that the Laru have to be the most loveable alien species I have ever encountered in fiction. Oolou and Turpo, the Laru owners of the pit stop, are furry, bendy, floppy four-legged people, very similar to alpacas and every bit as delightful in nature as you’d expect from such a fluffy alien. Turpo, still waiting to select a gender, is absolutely adorable and unites the novel and its characters. Nobody brings people together like Turpo. Because of Turpo, guests confide in each other about their worries and concerns, their past and their loves, while they play games or feast together or irritate each other.
Through these characters we learn so much about this fantastic universe that Becky Chambers has created – its wealth of traditions and customs, its hostilities and unions, its loneliness and its companionship. I adored every page of The Galaxy, and the Ground Within, only wishing it were longer. This is such a good series, one of the very best in science fiction, but this book, its glorious finale, is my favourite. I now want to go back and read or listen to the others again. I’m not ready to let the Wayfarers go. A very definite contender for my top book of 2021.
I must also mention that I absolutely love the title of The Galaxy, and the Ground Within. It speaks so well to the message and feeling of the novel.